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Thursday Thoughts: Buy-Outs and the 2013-14 Red Wings

A look ahead to what the Wings roster could look like in 2014

We might see this guy in 2014. Or not. Who knows.
We might see this guy in 2014. Or not. Who knows.
Harry How

For the 15th time, we are at the Most Critical Point of CBA Negotiations, only this time progress seems likes it's being made by the NHL and NHLPA.

Few details have emerged regarding the proposals (which is a good thing), but one major fact has come out:

The implications of this are big: NHL teams will potentially have the ability to buy out 2 players currently on the roster prior to the 2013-14 season. According to other tweets, these buyouts will not count against the cap but will come out of the players' share of HRR.

As Wing fans, the question then has to be asked: who, if anyone, would you buy out?

A quick perusal of Capgeek shows that the Red Wings currently have approximately $45M committed to 15 players for the 2013-14 season. Here's a list of the Wings' salary commitments for that year:

Player 2012-13 2013-14

Datsyuk, Pavel " $6,700,000 $6,700,000
Zetterberg, H. " $6,083,333 $6,083,333
Franzen, Johan " $3,954,545 $3,954,545
Filppula, V. " $3,000,000
Samuelsson, M. " $3,000,000 $3,000,000
Cleary, Danny " $2,800,000
Helm, Darren " $2,125,000 $2,125,000
Bertuzzi, Todd " $2,075,000 $2,075,000
Tootoo, Jordin " $1,900,000 $1,900,000
Abdelkader, J. " $1,800,000 $1,800,000
Brunner, Damien " $1,350,000
Eaves, Patrick " $1,200,000 $1,200,000
Nyquist, Gustav " $875,000
Miller, Drew " $837,500
Mursak, Jan " $550,000
Emmerton, Cory " $533,333 $533,333
Holmstrom, Tomas "

Kronwall, Niklas " $4,750,000 $4,750,000
Quincey, Kyle " $3,775,000 $3,775,000
Ericsson, J. " $3,250,000 $3,250,000
White, Ian " $2,875,000
Colaiacovo, Carlo " $2,500,000 $2,500,000
Kindl, Jakub " $883,333
Smith, Brendan " $875,000

Howard, Jimmy " $2,250,000
Gustavsson, Jonas " $1,500,000 $1,500,000

Assume that the players give in and the salary cap for '13-14 gets set at $60M. That means the Wings will have to fill out the rest of their roster for approximately $15M. The roster breaks down as follows:

Forwards: 10
Defensemen: 4
Goaltenders: 1

So the Wings will have to sign (or promote) at least 2 forwards, 2-3 defensemen and a goalie.

The Wings' biggest free agents heading into that season are Valtteri Filppula (UFA), Dan Cleary (UFA), Gustav Nyquist (RFA), Drew Miller (UFA) and Jan Mursak (RFA) at forward; Ian White (UFA), Brendan Smith (RFA) and Jakub Kindl (RFA) on defense; and Jimmy Howard (UFA) in goal. For the purposes of our discussion here, I have not included any soon-to-be free agents who have not seen any significant time with the Wings to this point in their careers.

I think it's safe to make a few assumptions here regarding the roster. First, every RFA will be retained by the Red Wings, especially Nyquist and Smith. Those two were/are going to be on the NHL roster (or should be, if management is smart) this year, but the lack of a full season might help to ensure that neither gets a large raise until they prove themselves as legitimate NHLers. Mursak and Kindl would likely be tendered offer sheets, but I think both are on the bubble and need to prove that they belong on the team. Perhaps all of them get $1M per season (especially Smith and Nyquist), but I wouldn't expect much more than that on their next contract.

Second, Jimmy Howard will be re-signed. The Wings won't know what they have in Jonas Gustavsson (the only other goaltender on their roster with any NHL experience) until this season and Petr Mrazek, for all his success in the AHL with Grand Rapids, might not be ready. Howard was the Wings' first half MVP last year and posted his best stats despite an injury. He waited a long time for his shot and he's made the most of it. He made $2.25M in his last contract, and the Wings have long been wary of providing long-term contracts to goalies, so depending on what kind of season he has, he could see a raise up to $3-4M/year over multiple years.

The rest of the free agents are tricky. Drew Miller could garner some interest from other teams based on his skill level and work ethic combined with his low cap hit. A raise to $1-1.5M per season for 2-3 years might not be out of the question. Dan Cleary might be offered a 1-year deal, but he could also be let go considering he will be almost 35 when next season starts and has had significant injury problems the last few years.

For me, the two big question marks are Filppula and White. Flip is coming off his long-awaited breakthrough season where he finally showed the offensive skill that complimented his defensive prowess. He will be 29 when next season starts, and there's a good chance that another team could come along and offer him upwards of $5M per season. With the glut of forward prospects ready to step up and join the Wings, Ken Holland may decide that Flip has gotten too expensive and let him walk, disappointing almost every female within 100 miles of the Detroit city limits.

White will be an interesting case. He played well to start last season while being paired with Nicklas Lidstrom, but with #5's retirement White will be asked to be one of the leaders on a defense that is going to have a lot of question marks. Is he ready for the challenge? Can he be more consistent over the course of an 82-game season? And if the answer to both of those questions is "yes", then what kind of raise will he look to get? Like Flip, he may get some interest (because he's on defense) and sign elsewhere for way more money than the Wings are willing to pay.

Back to the original question then, if the Wings are going to buy anyone out, who would it be? Consensus is likely Franzen based on the length of his contract, but how do you get rid of your team's leading goal scorer and proven playoff performer? Not many 30-goal power forwards are signed for less than $4M per season like Mule is.

Who else would you consider? Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall are the only other long-term contracts, but the likelihood of them getting bought out is as high as me starring in a commercial for some kind of hair care product.

How about Todd Bertuzzi and/or Mikael Samuelsson. I've made my thoughts about Bert well known, but I don't see what you gain from buying out a player that only has 1 year left on a contract before becoming a UFA who you can jettison. The Wings have a lot of cap space flexibility beyond 2014, so buying out Bert or Sammy makes no sense, especially since all of the Wings core players are still signed and there are a number of quality forward prospects just about ready to make the jump to the NHL.

Personally, I don't think the Wings use any buyouts, nor do they have to. I believe Wings management knew what the landscape was potentially going to look like post-CBA and positioned themselves to not be in a place where they needed to get rid of talented players to comply with a new salary cap. I believe that the transition from the old CBA to the new one will be fairly seamless in Detroit, and the team will continue to ice a competitive team that has the ability to compete for Stanley Cups. And if not, at least most of the bad contracts will be done in a year and we can start the rebuild.